Monday, July 27, 2009

Marrakesh by John Jockel

TITLE: Marrakesh
AUTHOR: John Jockel
PUBLISHER: Ravenous Romance
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 54k)
GENRE: Gay historical erotic romance
COST: $4.99

You’ll find this review different than my usual fare. I sincerely debated whether or not to write anything on this at all. Not because I didn’t finish it, but because of my conflicting emotions about it. I rather enjoyed it, actually, and read through the whole thing in swift time.

No, the source of my conflict lies in the fact that this is a blatant retelling of Casablanca. I pretty much knew that when I bought it, but I didn’t suspect it would be as blatant as it actually was. Basically, what the author has done has taken the homoerotic subtext of the movie and made it text, creating a whole gay backstory for his protagonist and expanding on some of the characters. I had fun with it, and I genuinely liked most of the characters, but the fact remains, it’s so obviously Casablanca that it’s a very guilty pleasure.

Names are thinly disguised. Rick Blaine becomes Frank Chandler, Sam becomes Dan and Frank’s ex-lover (and all those reasons about why he can’t go back to the US are due to being discharged from the Army for being gay), Ilsa is Lilli, and so on, and so on. Rick’s CafĂ© Americain becomes Frank’s American Nightclub. Situations and scenes are lifted and expanded. Even the montage in the movie about Rick and Ilsa in Paris has a correlating chapter, though the content in the book is more erotic and not quite the same. Decae (the prefect, in the movie it was Renault) has the same habit of calling Frank, “Frankie,” just like Renault called Rick, “Ricky,” in the movie. It was a little disconcerting to occasionally see actual lines of dialogue – none of the famous ones – appear in some fashion in the story, too (like the exchange about showing the Germans to a table because they would just take it anyway).

So you see my dilemma here? I feel tremendously guilty enjoying the book even a little bit. The writing is certainly solid enough, but knowing just how much of it is lifted from the movie spoils the effect. But others will know now just how blatant it is, and they can make their own decisions about buying it. Would I still have bought it, knowing how obvious the retelling was? I don’t know. Probably not.

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